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Updated: Apr 19, 2022

“All improvement is change; However, not all change is improvement.” (AndyS.)

A big-box home improvement store (the orange one) sits a mere mile from our residence. Good thing, because I only wasted an hour of a precious day off to purchase and then promptly return a drain snake that simply didn’t work as it should. “Was there anything wrong with it?” asked the purple-haired, pierced-face clerk.

“Yes,” I replied, “Since you’ve asked, it’s yet another worthless piece of crap produced by slave labor in a hostile country under the label of a once-reputable tool manufacturer… and your store here was perfectly happy to sell it to me.”

If I had thought that more detail would be helpful, I would have pointed out the flimsiness of its assembly and the inherent absurdity of its design. But I should have known better in the first place… I should not have been surprised… I should not have trusted this or anything else in this store to actually work as billed. After all, this is the exact same place where I came to realize just a few months before that they’ve ruined the freaking shovel.

* * * * * * *

I am not a physically powerful person. I am a 63-year-old cancer survivor with an artificial hip, a hernia mesh, and a chronically temperamental lower spine. And yet I somehow managed to break three shovels last year while doing perfunctory yard work.

Consider the workingman’s shovel of, say, fifty or even five years ago- a thick, seemingly indestructible steel blade and a similarly robust ash wood handle, securely riveted together… a tool sturdy enough to endure several decades of hard use… a design largely unchanged since the dawn of the Iron Age. Simple perfection, right? But nooooo… they had to “improve” it. Now it comes with a flimsy pot-metal blade that bends with little effort, casually attached to a fiberglass handle that snaps with normal usage.

Something similar happened with snow shovels a few decades ago— some pointy-headed genius decided that an S-shaped handle would reduce stress on the human back. What said genius failed to consider was that, in order to be S-shaped, his new-fangled handle would have to be made of plastic, which would quite naturally flex at the curves and, under the normal weight of wet snow, crease and become thenceforth unusable.

A few months ago— right after breaking my third shovel in twelve months— I undertook a search for a decent Soil Relocation Device like those of yesteryear. I started at my local (orange) big box store, and I seemed to have caught them at a pivotal moment, for the shovel department was completely bare. I flagged down an employee, who explained that they had just been directed to remove the existing inventory and replace them with a new shipment. She helpfully volunteered to bring out some of the new shovels for me. When she did, we were both stunned. “Wow!” She said. “These don’t look like they could shovel even regular dirt.”

The other (blue) big box hardware store, where I am accustomed to finding somewhat higher quality stuff, had apparently undergone a similar switcheroo. The ruination of an essential tool was underway— a tool that, until very recently, had remained basically unchanged for several millennia.

And the shovel isn’t the only thing they’ve ruined.

The Gas Can

I cannot improve upon one word in this epic rant—

The Flashlight

I regularly use a flashlight in my job. I use it to see stuff at night. I like my flashlights reliable, durable, and simple to use… oh, and easy to find in the dark. What I don’t need is a cheap plastic piece of crap with multiple strobe settings that seem to randomly select themselves, like a butt-dial; what I don’t need is a million-candlepower, military-grade searchlight with LED bulbs and batteries that cannot be replaced. But my desires mean nothing, apparently, for they have ruined the flashlight.

Masking Tape

Like most everything else in our stores, the manufacture of masking tape was moved to TCTMATCC (“The country that makes all that cheap crap.”) Following the apparently tireless efforts of their crack Quality Prevention Unit, the tape itself is now as flimsy as tissue paper… which means that the adhesive is now stronger than the tape itself, and so it always, ALWAYS rips when you try to unroll a piece. If by some combination of patience and divine intervention you manage to successfully utilize masking tape as it was originally intended— for keeping fresh wall paint off your moulding while you update your decor— The glue will quickly dry out and harden. When that happens, good luck ever, EVER removing the tape without sandpaper.

And it is not just MASKING tape. Essentially any tape that unrolls— duct tape, scotch tape, etc.— seems to have suffered the same fate. Indeed, our whole retail economy has seemingly morphed into literally thousands of miles of shelves loaded with garbage that either can’t possibly work in the first place or that you wind up throwing away in a few months after whatever it is stops working.

I’ve mostly learned to work around this new reality by shopping extra carefully and/or buying vintage tools and stuff rather than new. But then things got really ugly and even personal for me…

they ruined a perfectly good WINE.


The Mateus Rosé brand was established during the early years of WWII because the wine industry of neutral Portugal needed a place other than war-torn Europe to sell its wines. An enterprising Portuguese producer hastily conceived a new wine for export to their former colony Brazil— a slightly sweet and slightly fizzy blend from red and white grapes in an unusual, flask-shaped bottle bearing the borrowed name and image of the historic and private Mateus Estate. Thirty years and many millions of cases later, Mateus was the most popular tipple of pre-wine boom America and much of the civilized world. Luminaries from Queen Elizabeth to Jimi Hendrix to André the Giant were known to drink it. Elton John sang about it. It dominated the wine trade like no other single bottle before or since, popular even when empty— its unique original package, once a staple on 1970’s dorm-room windowsills and shelves, is now a popular (and expensive) item on eBay.

In other words, to the soul-less, ignorant suits who actually run this world, the Mateus brand was crying out to be “updated,” and, of course, completely ruined.

I am not now nor have I ever have been a fan of rosé wine, unless of course it is BRUT rosé, a.k.a. pink Champagne. Throughout the history of winemaking, non-sparkling rosé has mostly been an attempt to capture in a single bottle the positive qualities of both reds and whites. But nature looks askance at most human tinkering, and more often than not our efforts at crossbreeding yield something with the scientist’s looks and the supermodel’s brains. That being said, when the season’s first muggy swelter has us enervated and damp-shirted beneath a merciless June sun, serious wine— red OR white— is impossible to enjoy, and so we gleefully pass the ice-cold pink stuff around the patio and gulp it like lemonade.

One such early hot spell a couple of years ago, Andrea and I purchased a bottle of Mateus to see how it would stand up to the wave of newly trendy bone dry rosés increasingly dominating the wine shelves. Gone, sadly, was the original Mateus packaging— the bottle was now clear rather than deep green, and it was shaped a little differently. The label had also been “modernized” beyond recognition. But the wine within was still the same, and for $8.99/1.5 liter bottle (just $4.50 per 750 ml!) it blew away all competition up to quadruple its price. In our early summer steam-bath it refreshingly crackled with trace carbonation and was just plain delicious… downright swillable. But alas, that was the final edition of the original Mateus. It turned out that this legendary wine was in the process of “transitioning,” and the new packaging was just the first phase toward its new identity. Barely a year later they “updated” the wine itself to an insipid and dry pink plonk as devoid of recognizable character and charm as its new get-up.

And so we mourn the sacrifice of yet another Good Thing on the altar of Change For Its Own Sake… and another thoroughly pointless loss. It is surely true that no knowledgeable wine drinker ever mistook the old Mateus for serious wine— indeed, to trained professional palates (including my own) it was as aesthetically inconsequential as surf music… and yet no less delicious a guilty pleasure. In the generalized category of post WWII market-shifting beverages, I’d say that Mateus belongs in the Pantheon of Mega-Successes right alongside Perrier Water and Miller Lite.

And now it is forever gone, alive only in memories like mine.

* * * * * * *

Are we humans so stupid and/or crazy that we have to ruin everything good? I’m starting to think so. However, the good news is that capitalism tends to reward a strong instinct to correct mistakes, to fill voids when they are created. And as your faithful Grumpy Old Mansplainer, I would be remiss not to offer possible solutions to the problems I’ve identified.

Shipping costs make vintage shovels impractical to sell on eBay. Therefore I can do no better than refer you to your local garage sales and suggest that you stop at every one you see. Garage sales are much more easier to navigate when you know exactly what you are looking for. As you look for old and well-made shovels, keep in mind that they’re probably about to ruin the rake as well.

As for flashlights, numerous vintage examples are available on eBay for reasonable prices. In case you need a little guidance, THIS is what a stinkin’ flashlight should look like—

The news is better for gas cans… just go to and click away. You will still need to poke a vent in your gas can that you can somehow securely close when coming home from the filling station. Duct tape will do nicely… if you can actually unroll some.

As for the successor to Mateus, Lancer’s Rosé was always its direct competitor, much closer to Mateus in conception and style than in sales volume. Like the original formulation of Mateus, Lancer’s was created in wartime Portugal as a slightly fizzy and slightly sweet rosé that (originally) came in a catchy package— in Lancer’s case, a terra cotta crock that, once emptied, frequently found use as a funky flower vase. Lancer’s Rosé currently retails for $8.99/750 ml bottle— fully twice the price of the last bottling of original Mateus. Andrea and I gave it a try. The verdict? Sad to say that, like Mateus, they’ve ruined Lancer’s both inside and out. I will continue searching for our next great Heat Wave Rosé and post my results when I find it… right along with the elusive solution for lousy masking tape and maybe even a good resource for old-school shovels.

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May 11, 2022

We have a WINNER! In the absence of the original Mateus, here is our new, go-to Summer Swelter Sipper! $9-10/ bottle, widely available.

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